Five storylines for the season
Hoos' faith lies with the spread
With all the pressure on coach Al Groh
, new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon has the chance to be a savior, or he could represent one of the final lines in Groh's nine-year tenure. Last season, U.Va. was 115th in the nation in scoring (16.1 ppg). Even with Cedric Peerman on board, U.Va.'s running game started the season slowly (no team from a Bowl Championship Series conference ran for fewer yards per game — 66 — in August and September) and didn't finish the season much better (109th in rushing offense — 97 ypg). Something has to change if Groh and his staff hope to be around in 2010.
Hall and Sewell must pass
While quarterbacks Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell have shown a penchant in practice for being able to create something out of nothing when the pocket breaks down, they need to get it done in the passing game, too. Jared Green, who had just 12 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown last season, is the leading returner at the wide receiver spots. No other returning receiver had double digits in receptions. To instill confidence in the young receivers, Hall (who is a gifted athlete, but will have to overcome his 5-foot-9 stature at quarterback) or Sewell (who has to prove he still can be sharp after a year away) must deliver catchable balls.
Slight drop-off at linebacker
It'd be hard to expect the same kind of production from a linebacker corps that lost Jon Copper, Antonio Appleby and Clint Sintim — the top three tacklers on the team last season. Yet, returning starter Denzel Burrell (48 tackles last season), Aaron Clark, Steve Greer and Darren Childs will need to be consistently productive for U.Va.'s 3-4 defense to remain effective. At least there are several other options to explore at linebacker, including Cam Johnson, Billy Schautz, Terence Fells-Danzer, Darnell Carter, Woodside High graduate Jared Detrick and Gloucester High graduate Aaron Taliaferro.
Dowling an All-American?
Ras-I Dowling should anchor what could be a very strong secondary, including cornerback Chris Cook (back after not being enrolled at U.Va. last year, like Sewell) and safeties Corey Mosley and Rodney McLeod (a rising star). After logging a total of 20 pass breakups in the last two seasons, it would be difficult to find a cornerback more effective in the Atlantic Coast Conference than Dowling. Now, he'll get to work directly under assistant coach Anthony Poindexter
, a former great U.Va. safety who moved from coaching running backs to defensive backs in the off-season. Another season like the first two from Dowling, and the NFL
will come calling before his senior year.
Simpson or Mack?
After a breakout 2007 season, Mikell Simpson didn't look nearly as effective last season. Of course, he missed the last three games because of a shoulder injury, but he didn't seem to be a primary option even when he was in games. There's no denying Simpson remains one of U.Va.'s best receiving threats (43 catches in '07 and 15 catches last season). Torrey Mack, a redshirt freshman, will get plenty of looks in the spread. If he shows anything remotely close to the explosiveness he displayed in his senior year at Stratford High in Stratford, Conn. (13.7 yards per carry), he could find himself getting the bulk of the carries in U.Va.'s backfield.
Five storylines for the season